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Robbie Robertson, guitarist for The Band and Bob Dylan, dies at 80

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Robbie Robertson has died. He wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s and '70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WEIGHT")

THE BAND: (Singing) I pulled into Nazareth - was feeling about half past dead.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Robbie Robertson also played lead guitar for The Band. The group became famous backing Bob Dylan.

INSKEEP: Which they did at a hotly debated moment. Dylan had become famous as a folk musician, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica, and then he plugged in his music. His electric sound with The Band infuriated some fans. Robertson talked to WHYY's Fresh Air in 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROBBIE ROBERTSON: We got booed all over the United States. It was like we were the bad guys in the situation.

MCCAMMON: But The Band became big stars on their own, thanks to albums like "Music From Big Pink" from 1968 and "The Band," released in 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN")

THE BAND: (Singing) The night they drove old Dixie down...

INSKEEP: This is often misunderstood as a Confederate anthem, although the song, by a Canadian, has also been interpreted as an attempt to empathize with Southern poverty and loss.

MCCAMMON: When Robertson decided The Band had run its course, he enlisted film director Martin Scorsese to immortalize them in the legendary concert film "The Last Waltz."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK")

THE BAND: (Singing) I don't have to speak. She defends me - a drunkard's dream, if I ever did see one.

INSKEEP: After The Band split up, Robertson kept working with Scorsese. And their movies include the upcoming film "Killers Of The Flower Moon," which takes place in Oklahoma's Osage Nation. Robertson's mother was Mohawk and Cayuga. Robertson says he learned guitar during family visits to the Six Nations Reserve.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORDS OF FIRE, DEEDS OF BLOOD")

ROBERTSON: I claim a right to live on my land and accord you the privilege to return to yours.

MCCAMMON: One of his half a dozen later albums was called "Music For The Native Americans." In a statement, Martin Scorsese said his friend's music seemed to come from the deepest place at the heart of this continent - its traditions and tragedies and joys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WEIGHT")

THE BAND: (Singing) Take a load off, Fanny - take a load for free. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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